In a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, a Washington state clinic is demanding that the DEA allow them to use psilocybin to treat patients suffering from terminal cancer.
Last fall, Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Seattle therapist specializing in end-of-life care, started searching for a way to legally administer psilocybin mushrooms to terminally ill patients. In the letter, Dr. Aggarwal argued that although psilocybin is still classified as a Schedule I drug, he should be allowed to dispense it under the “Right to Try Act,” a 2018 law that allows patients to use drugs that have not been completely approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA has recently granted psilocybin “Breakthrough Therapy” status, allowing researchers to fast-track clinical studies with an aim to eventually legalize this exciting new therapy. So far, initial studies have demonstrated that even one single dose of psilocybin can reduce anxiety in patients suffering from terminal cancer. Based on the success of these trials, Dr. Aggarwal applied to state and federal regulators for the right to grow his own shrooms and dispense them to his patients.
Last month, DEA officials sent the doctor a letter denying his request, arguing that they do not have the authority to waive the Controlled Substances Act. The agency added that the only way the doctor could legally dispense psilocybin would be to apply for a federal research permit, but since the doctor is not specifically conducting research, he would be ineligible.
Unwilling to take this lame excuse as a final answer, Dr. Aggarwal and his clinic sued the feds in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The lawsuit argues that the DEA does indeed have the legal right to approve psilocybin treatments under the Right to Try Act. This law allows certain patients to try experimental drugs that have completed Phase I research trials and are still being studied – and psilocybin meets those criteria.
“It is a first-of-its-kind lawsuit,” said lead attorney Kathryn Tucker on a press call, according to Marijuana Moment. “The case is about seeking to ensure that patients with serious, life-threatening illness are able to realize the promise of state and federal right-to-try laws and access psilocybin for therapeutic.”
“This is absolutely unacceptable for [terminal patients’] care, because they have this right under the law, and the law states that that medicines like this should be made available expeditiously for patients,” the doctor told Marijuana Moment. “I’m hoping that the judges who look at that will take into consideration the great potential [of psilocybin], the suffering of my patients, and the law and what their rights are.”
A similar situation played out in Canada last year, after a group of therapists petitioned the government to allow them to treat terminally ill patients with psilocybin therapy. Unlike the US, Canada's health minister approved the request for four specific patients, and in December, officials also began allowing certain therapists to use the drug as well.
In the US, psilocybin therapy is only legal in the state of Oregon, but many individual cities have decriminalized shrooms, and campaigns to legalize psychedelic-assisted therapy are advancing in many states.